Mid-sentence: Sabrina and Corina Event Recap
Mid-sentence: Sabrina and Corina
The New York Public Library, 42nd Street
Monday April 22 2019
Below is a portion of the interview as transcribed to the best of my memory and ability from my notes. All mistakes are my own. You can find my full review of the book here.
Book summary: Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic story collection breathes life into her Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit. Set against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado–a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite–these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force.
In “Sugar Babies,” ancestry and heritage are hidden inside the earth but tend to rise during land disputes. “Any Further West” follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado only to find a foreign and hostile land in California. In “Tomi,” a woman leaves prison and finds herself in a gentrified city that is a shadow of the one she remembers from her childhood. And in the title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual.
Sabrina & Corina is a moving narrative of unrelenting feminine power and an exploration of the universal experiences of abandonment, heritage, and an eternal sense of home.
Ivelisse: Who are you talking about when you talk about “Latinas of Indigenous descent”?
Kali: I always thought I was “just” Latina, but I started to do some research into my family history and discovered that my family has been here based in the Southwest for generations. We come from this land but our history has been erased. When I learned about this I started to embrace the term “Chicana” which means of indigenous descent. This is who I am writing about.
Ivelisse: What is the relationship with whiteness that the characters in the stories have?
Kali: This is something I have thought about a lot. When I was growing up my family would tell me to get a man that was white but not “too white”. The women in my family faced a lot of violence at the hands of white men, at the same time getting with a white man was seen as a way to opportunity and wealth. Doty in the story ‘Sisters’ really illustrates this. It is something that my family has experienced through generations.
Ivelisse: Can you talk about some of the responses you have received in regards to the violence in the works you write, particularly being a woman writing about violence?
Kali: Growing up we were never supposed to talk about the violence that we witness. In grad school the reaction was “this is gratuitous, why are you writing this?”. Whereas the violence that men get away with writing without push back is something else, I mean look at Blood Meridian! I grew up knowing women who experienced violence. Women are supposed to be nurturing, the way I want to nurture is by telling the truth.
Ivelisse: The opening story “Sugar Baby” shows the woman abandoning the family. I appreciate the inclusion of problematic mothers in your stories, can you talk a little bit about this?
Kali: People tend to skip over this because the focus tends to be on the deadbeat dad. The things women face and fight through, you realize that you can’t heal automatically, you realize that you have to heal yourself before you can heal your daughters. I wanted to show flawed women who are imperfect but also have moments of great beauty.
Ivelisse: How did these stories affect you emotionally?
Kali: There were times when I was ashamed that I wanted to write about such raw experiences but tackling the violence that women face through my work has helped heal me from childhood traumas.
Ivelisse: Can you talk about the female friendships in your stories?
Kali: These are the most important relationships for me. Friends, sisters, mothers, I wanted to write a book about these relationships, the things that we face but also the things that we experience together.
Ivelisse: You talk a lot about the land in these stories, especially Colorado and New Mexico. What’s your history with these places?
Kali: My family has been on this land for generations. Since before statehood and before borders shifted after the Mexican-American war. I wanted to write realistic fiction about these places. There’s not that much literature about this part of the US, Planesong (by Kent Haruf) and Pale Horse, Pale Rider (by Katherine Anne Porter) but I specifically wanted to write realistic fiction about these places from a female, Chicana perspective, because these voices have been erased. I am trying to correct the one-sided view of history. I am angry, I approach my work with joy, but at the baseline I am angry I cannot let our stories be erased.
At the end, there was an opportunity for a Q&A and I asked Ivelisse and Kali the following question:
Q: Both of you works are a collection of short stories. Can you talk a bit about what attracts you to this particular form?
Kali: I come from a ‘submerged’ population so a marginalized form like the short story, rather than a more mainstream novel seemed fitting. Also I come from an oral history background and I approach writing my stories as if they were oral storytelling, so a shorter form works better.
Ivelisse: I like the flexibility that short stories give me to experiment with different voices.
Also Kali Fajardo-Anstine made an exciting announcement that she is working on a novel also to be published by One World! As of now it is potentially titled “Women of Light”